This overachiever is really two Genius recipes, and will revolutionize your cooking in so many ways. It will give you a freezable sauce that — in a single step (blend) — can instantly bring life to any dinner that needs it.
And it points to the place you'll want to unleash that sauce first: a one-pot chicken soup that isn't just brothy, restorative, and cold-curing in the ways that all good chicken soups are — but also has a feature others can't claim: energizing.
Zoe distilled the sauce, which she named Chalé, from her father's everyday cooking routine. "He would whip this up and then literally throw in any type of meat, fish or protein," Zoe writes in "Zoe's Ghana Kitchen." The flavors of onion, ginger, and chiles, carried into a fiesty tomato sauce, are so foundational, Zoe refers to them as the Ghanaian holy trinity, and dispenses them similarly to Italian passata or Nigerian ata dindin.
But because Zoe ran a supper club and wrote a book for busy home cooks, instead of starting from scratch for every meal, she condensed and froze the first steps in time. By chucking all the ingredients into a blender and storing the deep red sauce in the fridge or freezer, she could be halfway to brightly flavored stews, pastas, and much more. "Use it for okra soup one day, the next time use it for meatballs, another time use it for moussaka or use it for jollof," Zoe told me. The name Chalé is a nod to both her dad Charles and the Ga word for "friend."
With Chalé Sauce tucked in the freezer, you have a sly shortcut to the bowl of comfort that is the Ghanaian stew nkrakra, or light soup. "All cultures have this healing, hot, light chicken soup that's economical to make and easy to bulk out," from matzo ball soup to caldo de pollo, Zoe said. "I love that about it — it shows people the connections we have in food culture."
Nkrakra will putter along all afternoon with little intervention from you, anytime you want to warm your belly, soul, and home. You won't even need to brown the chicken, batch by batch, spattering everything within spatters' reach — time (and Chalé Sauce) do the work.
When it's done, the chicken will melt, and the broth will coax you to life. "It's like you've just had a beautiful meditation, like 'ooh all my energy's refreshed now' — it's not the kind of heat that is going to knock your palate out for three days," Zoe told me. "It's just a really beautiful, warming, slow-rising heat that's perfect for winter."
It's everything January, and especially January 2022, needs: Not just coziness and warmth and peace, but fire.
For the Nkrakra
- 2 kilograms (4 pounds 8 ounces) or 8-10 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs
- 3 tablespoons sustainable red palm oil
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 20 grams (0.7 ounces) fresh thyme sprigs
- 4 to 5 Guinea peppers, cracked open
- 1 teaspoon extra-hot chili powder
- 1 Scotch bonnet pepper, pierced
- 3 garlic cloves, finely diced
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 300 milliliters (10 fluid ounces) Chalé Sauce (see below)
- 750 milliliters to 1 liter (1 1/4 pints to 1 3/4 pints) good-quality chicken stock
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 inches (5 centimeters) grated fresh ginger
- 250 grams (9 ounces) white cabbage, sliced (optional)
- 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) yam, peeled and diced (optional)
- 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) carrots, peeled and diced (optional)
- Sprig of cilantro, to garnish (optional)
- Slightly toasted sourdough bread or fufu, for serving (optional)
For the Chalé Sauce
- 200 grams (7 ounces) canned tomatoes or 300 grams (10 ounces) fresh tomatoes
- 1 roasted red bell pepper
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 small white onion, roughly diced
- one 1-inch/2.5-centimeter piece fresh ginger, grated
- 1 small red Scotch bonnet chile (use half and deseed if you have a low heat tolerance, or substitute 1/2 teaspoon cayenne for a milder heat)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes
- 2 garlic cloves (optional)
- Fine sea salt to taste
- 1 teaspoon extra hot Madras curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon extra hot chili powder
For the Nkrakra
- Place the chicken in a large, heavy-based saucepan or Dutch oven with the sustainable red palm oil, onion, thyme, peppers, chili powder, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of the sea salt. Cook together over a low heat, partially covered, until the juices start to run from the chicken.
- Pour the Chalé Sauce over the chicken mixture, then cover and simmer for about 30 minutes.
- Stir in the stock and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 1 hour until the chicken is tender. Season to taste with pepper.
- Add your choice of vegetables, if desired, and cook until tender (approximately 30 minutes). Remove the sprigs of thyme before serving.
- To serve: I love to serve this dish in a traditional Ghanaian asanka pot with a ball of fufu on the side, as it looks so inviting that way. You can also serve it on its own in a large bowl garnished with a sprig of cilantro, or with a slice of slightly toasted sourdough bread on the side.
- Tip: If you're happy to go low and slow while cooking, this dish is perfect for cheaper cuts of chicken such as from older hens or broiling hens — you get tons of extra flavor but need to slow cook for 3 to 4 hours over a low heat.
For the Chalé Sauce
- Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend together until you have a fairly smooth paste.
- This is your Chalé Sauce. Throughout Zoe's book there are references to adding Chalé Sauce, so she recommends making a big batch and freezing in smaller quantities to make many of the stew and sauces recipes much faster to re-create at home. Use straight away, or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days, or freeze for future use.
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